This Italian style beans and greens recipe is super savory, comforting and nutritious – the flavor trifecta! Whether you’re looking to start the new year with a lucky beans and greens dish, or just looking for a hearty dish to get you through winter, this classic Italian recipe is just what you need!
If you’ve spent any time in the South, you know that January 1 of every year requires beans and greens (and probably cornbread). Traditionally these dishes are eaten to bring luck in the new year.
My go-to southern version of this tradition usually involves pinto beans and collard greens or turnip greens. A few years ago I mixed it up with curly kale…and that wasn’t my luckiest year, so kale is no longer an option.
This year, we’re going Mediterranean with this Italian classic of white beans and escarole. This is a brothy, stew-like dish with deep flavor and creamy textures. It’s the perfect winter-time main dish with a hunk of crusty bread, or a hearty side dish for a skewer of grilled shrimp.
If leafy escarole is hard to find in your local grocery store, several leafy greens varieties will work well as substitutes. Check out the FAQ section below for all the details.
Let’s do this!
What you’ll need to make this Italian Greens and Beans Recipe:
- Olive oil
- Yellow onion
- Fresh garlic
- Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes
- Vegetable broth
- White beans
- Parmesan cheese
Full measurements and directions included in the printable recipe card below.
Step by step instructions:
Heat a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add diced onion, minced garlic, red and black pepper and a pinch of salt into the pan and sauté until tender and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
While the vegetables are cooking, clean and cut the escarole and drain the white beans.
After 5 minutes, add the escarole, white beans and veggie broth to the pan. Bring the stew up to a simmer and stir occasionally, cooking until greens are fully wilted and beans are heated through – about 6-8 minutes.
Remove from heat. Add the fresh lemon juice and stir in half the parmesan. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Serve with additional parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil and crusty Italian bread.
FAQ’s and Serving Suggestions:
Escarole is a leafy green that is part of the chicory family. If you pass it in your local grocery store, you might confuse it for a giant head of leaf lettuce. Like its cousins in the chicory family, escarole is considered a bitter green. It may be counterintuitive, but escarole’s green outer leaves are more bitter, so they make the best addition to rich stews like this one. The inner leaves are more tender and mild, and are most often included in salads or layered into a sandwich.
Any of your favorite greens will work in this recipe including tuscan kale, curly kale, Swiss chard, turnip or mustard greens, and even broccoli rabe. Escarole is a fairly quick-cooking green, so depending on the substitution, you may need to add the greens to the pan and let them cook down for 4-5 minutes at medium-high heat before adding the beans and stock to ensure everything is fully cooked when the beans are warmed through in the stew.
Any canned white bean will work in this deliciously humble dish. Navy beans, great northern beans and white cannellini beans are my go-to choices. If you’re starting with dry beans, soak the beans in cold water overnight, then cook according to package instructions. Drain and add to the recipe as prescribed in the instructions.
If you’re serving this beans and greens dish as your main, drizzle each bowl with olive oil, a little bit of fresh lemon juice, parmesan and a chunk of crusty Italian bread. A few add-ons that bring even more protein and richness would be a soft-boiled or poached egg, or a skewer of grilled shrimp. If you’re cooking for non-pescatarians / vegetarians, you could add ground Italian sausage to the stew, or shred some rotisserie chicken in at the end and allow it to heat through.
I first made this dish when we were in Paris visiting friends, so I visited markets all over the city looking for the perfect bunch of escarole. Turns out “perfect” was really, really large. This leafy green vegetable head needs to be cleaned well – if you have a salad spinner, you could chop up the head and rinse and clean it in the spinner. Since I was cooking analogue style in the airbnb, I clean each leaf and cut into bite-sized pieces before adding it to the Dutch oven.
Escarole brings a bitterness that complements this rich stew. But we do want to keep it in balance and not let the bitterness take over the dish. Salt and acid are the perfect balance to a bitter green. So tasting and adjusting the seasoning in your stew before serving ensures you have the best flavor. Topping your finished dish with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a shaving of parmesan makes it even better!
To store, transfer the stew to an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Escarole tastes best in this dish the day you make it, so I don’t recommend it as a make-ahead option.
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